Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Giving it my best shot"

Our first few weeks of the Youth Art Courses have been crazy as usual and a reminder to me why I love my work at Ayuda. I am really energized by having the kids around again and working with my great teachers to provide a fun creative space for our kids. I wanted to share a story from our first week...

Shawn is a one of our daily visitors here at Ayuda. He comes for lots of reasons: he's a faithful boyscout, he loves to hang out with Ryan, Ayuda's Director of Development, and shred things for him, and he loves to draw. He has been showing me his drawings for quite sometime. I encouraged him to join our Beginning Drawing class this fall. At first, Shawn was really enthused about joining the class. But as we got closer to the first day of class, he seemed to seem less and less interested in the class. I was unsure what the issue was for him as to why he was losing interest in joining. Finally, I asked him pointedly, "Shawn, today is the first class. Do you want to be in the class?" He looked at me with a deer-in-headlights look and said, "Yeah, I do, but my mom's got lots of bills so I don't think I will be able to do it." The enrollment fee for the youth art courses is $50 for 10 weeks (about 60% less than other art training available for our youth). I told him that I had some scholarships available for youth and that he may qualify. I told him that he could try out the first class to see if he liked it and I would go and talk with his mom. He still seemed very unsure, but he went downstairs to join the other 5 students and I walked across the street to chat with his mom.

Shawn's mom and I have met and talked some in the past. She knew that I do art stuff. I found that she knew about the class and about the $50 and she said there was no way. She was wearing scrubs and had just gotten home from work. As we sat there and talked for a while, 2 teenagers walked in and out of the house, one 18 and one 15. Joining us in our visit was a 2 year old cutie wearing his jammies. All of these kids were hers: 5 kids in all ranging from age 2-18. And it is just her providing for them. No wonder $50 for an art class seemed a little "luxurious" for one child when it seemed that every dollar she made at her job would be spent on food, rent, and clothes for the kids before she even brought home her paycheck. I sat there thinking about my own paychecks and how I just keep them all. All for me. How does she do it? Eventually, I assured her that I did have people who wanted to sponsor youth to take these art classes and that I could grant him a scholarship. She was still hesitant at first, but eventually, she relaxed and smiled; she said she knew that Shawn drew all the time and he really wanted to join. She agreed to fill out the paperwork. As I left the porch, she said, "Make sure you tell Shawn that I signed him up!"

Drawing class ended; kids trickled upstairs all trying to show my what they drew all at the same time. I pulled Shawn aside and said I had something to tell him. Again, that sick look! I said, "I just wanted you to know that your mom signed you up for the class." He literally erupted. His grin was huge; he yelled out; he started spinning in the chair! He kept saying, "She did? She did? Really? I can stay in the class?" It was really fun... and talking with his mom later in the week, she mentioned how happy he was to be in the class.

And that's just one. We have 19 other great kids, each with their own story, enrolled in the fall courses. One of the things that I go over with the kids in our classes in the beginning is the commitment that we all make to take artistic risks. I love to ask the kids what they think that means... "Doing something dangerous." "Drawing a gun." One of the photography students suggested that it meant "giving it my best shot." Yes. I ask all the kids to commit to doing that while they are in our program and I tell each of them that it is my commitment to them to take the risks involved, artistic and other, in shaping Ayuda's Community Arts Program. We're giving it our best shot.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Some thoughts from my latest Ayuda Arts Update

Creative Work in the Midst of Violence
September has arrived again. We greet the fall excited about what this next year will hold for Ayuda's Community Arts Program. We continue to hold out our collaborative creative work as an important part of what Ayuda (meaning "help" in Spanish) is about. As we have prepared our themes for this year, we have decided to turn our intent gaze into the violence that surrounds us and abides within us. Violence is dangerous territory. Alone, violence has the ability to reduce our lives to a base level existence. Once there, there is one purpose: survival. Our days become two-dimensional where we hide to avoid the intrusion of the violence that exists outside us and we seek distraction to avoid wrestling with the violence we find in ourselves.

The 16th chapter of Ezekiel describes God finding an unwanted child exposed to its environment striving for survival. "No one looked on you with pity or had compassion... rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, as you lay there in your blood I said to you, 'LIVE!'" This allegory continues to describe how God bathes, clothes, adorns, and feeds the child with the finest of foods.
This is our God who encounters one discarded and restores worth and beauty.

Ayuda's mission statement speaks of revealing Jesus' restoration: restoring our souls to that Community which created it; restoring the humanity of one person relating to another; restoring voice to our inner search for identity and worth. Ayuda's persistence in doing creative work restores beauty to our community, which lies in danger of operating only from the pale necessity of survival.

"The dichotomy between beauty and necessity has always been a false tension. Yet as a distraction, it has been extremely effective at crippling our power to bring full-bodied, earth-rending change. In our line of work, the task of stoking our vision and constantly imagining possibilities is absolutely essential." - Dee Dee Risher, former editor at The Other Side.

We believe that creative work resists the heaviness of violence and brings about an imaginative engagement with possibilities beyond survival. At Ayuda, we feel brokenness. Our work is to daily choose restoration through that which is beautiful. And we invite you along.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Complicated Birthday Celebration

I turned 31 on September 8th this year. My housemate Susan wanted to gather some folks for dinner on Sunday the 7th to celebrate and chill in the backyard enjoying the break in the heat. On Saturday night, Susan was home (I was out) and she heard this shooting from our living room. She gathered with others to find out about this young man's death. This is how the paper read in the morning:

Ronell Davis, 29, was shot in the head and the knee at about 8:30 Saturday night on Franklin Street near Wingohocking, in Hunting Park, police said. Davis was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 9:05 p.m.
Walking to church in the morning, I realized it was the same house that recently had the banner of those who have passed from our neighborhood (see past post). The irony was painful. Today, there's a memorial out for Ronell:
It was a quiet day on Wingohocking Street. We decided to go ahead and have dinner with cake and slowly the word got out. Soon after we started eating, the kids called from the front, "Can we come back yet?" So we opened the gate to the backyard and let the flood of children flow in from the block that heard that it was Miss Michaelanne's birthday and there was mention of a cake. When evening came, the heaviness of Ronell's death was so present and there in the midst of it was the joy cries of our kids playing tag and tossing the football. It is really, really complicated... this whole life thing.